Russia pulls troops from Ukraine border

Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting with Security Council members in Moscow, on March 21, 2014. AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Presidential Press Service

MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin has told diplomats that Russia has pulled back its troops from the Ukrainian border.

He’s also urging insurgents in southeast Ukraine to postpone their planned referendum Sunday on autonomy.

In a Moscow meeting with Switzerland’s president, Putin said the Russian troops have been pulled back to their training grounds and locations for “regular exercises,” but didn’t specify whether those locations were in areas near Ukraine.

Putin also called on Ukraine’s military to halt all operations against pro-Russia activists who have seized government buildings and police stations in at least a dozen towns in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine launched a government offensive late last week to take back buildings and towns under control of the insurgents.

The government has said at least 35 people, including many rebels, have died in that offensive.

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Many had feared that Sunday’s vote on more autonomy would be a flashpoint for further violence between the rebels and Ukrainian troops in the east.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March after residents held a vote and overwhelmingly backed secession.

Putin says his government believes the most important thing is to create direct, full-fledged dialogue between the Kiev authorities and representatives of southeast Ukraine.

Despite Putin’s comments, pro-Russia militants calling themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic say they will go ahead with the referendum on Sunday.

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